Saturday, February 7, 2009

ATACAMA






Marty and I have traveled more than 12,000 miles. We have arrived in Santiago, Chile and are spending a few days getting service and repairs for the bikes.

It has been some time since we last posted. After we got shaken down by the cop in Barrancas Peru we headed south through Lima and then on to Nasca, the home of the famous Nasca lines. We spend the night and then headed for Cuzco. As I reported the road was great, except where it wasn’t. What I did not tell you was how cold and desolate it is in the Andes. We encountered hail at 15,000 feet on two occasions. It was a two day trip to Cuzco. We stayed at the Hotel Santa Maria, which is owned by nuns. They let us park the bikes in their lobby. There was another motorcyclist there named Martin, from England. So the 3 bikes parked in the lobby gave the hotel the look of the adventure motorcycle center of Cuzco.

We received some great advice from Martin. When we were talking about our tires and going to La Paz for new ones Martin asked if we had checked the weather. We figured that it is summer south of the equator and therefore dry travel season. It turned out that Bolivia experiences its winter and greatest rainfall in January and February. He had been to Bolivia on prior travels and informed us that there is no paved road to Argentina through Bolivia, something I found unbelievable until I examined the map again. So since our tires were shot, the roads were mud, and we were not yet through the border we decided to change the itinerary and cross the Atacama Desert in Chile instead.

Martin had the greatest story about being taken by Peruvian police. When he crossed the border he changed $100 for 300 Peruvian Sols. Turned out all three bills were counterfeit. There is an enormous amount of counterfeit in Peru, so everyone is watching for it, and Martin could not use the bills. So he decided to keep them and try to pass them when he could. He was pulled over by a cop outside of Lima and accused of speeding. The cop just saw the opportunity to shake Martin down. So Martin negotiated the “fine” to 200 Sols, and duly paid the cop with two counterfeit bills.

Marty and I went to Machu Pichu last week. It is a pretty grueling all day trip with a nine hour train ride. So the day starts at 6 am and ends at 9:30 pm. But Machu Pichu is worth it, and we now understand why it is important. It would be a great place to spend a couple of days climbing around. There is a great one week hiking trip up the Inca trail that ends in Machu Pichu.

Last Tuesday we went to Lake Titicaca, just to see it. It was on the way to Bolivia, but not too far out of the way to Chile. But to get to Chile we had to cross the Andes, again. This time the pass was dry, but very very cold at 4550 meters. So we had Alpaca stew for lunch.

Once out of the high Andes we hit desert again. But our tires were really showing wear. By the time we hit the border with Chile we could see the wear bars and had real misgivings about crossing the Atacama Desert with poor tires. It is a dangerous and unforgiving place, so we started searching for tires in Chile, and found some 200 km south of the Peruvian border in Iquique. It was a great decision. The Atacama is cold and absolutely barren. I mean no cactus, no scrub, not a blade of grass for 800 miles. In some places it looks like Mars. In others it looks like the moon. We were warned to leave by 7 am on our third day crossing from Antofogasta. There is no fuel or food for the first 300 km or so. So we brought extra gas as a precaution. I figured we had crossed the worst when I could see tiny cactus and scrub. That lasted another 400 km.

Iquique is a pretty cool place on the Pacific. It is surrounded by the Atacama, but is a major port and has everything. We stayed at the Backpacker Hostel. Hostels are good places to stay because people talk with each other. Marty met a lot of people and went out at 1:30 am. I slept. But I got him up fairly early and we made out way through the desert along the coastal highway. So on the left was this lifeless desert and on the right was the Pacific Ocean and all the water in the world for 700 km.

We arrived in Santiago on Tuesday Feb 3 and have been relaxing at the home of Eugene Valenzuela, his wife Lida, and 7 kids. Gene lived with my family in 1966 and 1967 and went to Creighton Prep high school with me. We have kept in touch and Marty lived with Gene and his family in 1999 and 2000. So it has been good to renew the old friendship.

We are taking no more tire chances and have bought 2 new sets of tires to haul with us. I do not think they will fit very elegantly on the bikes. But we know there will be no more tires for at least 4000 miles until Buenos Aires. Moreover, at least 1500 miles of that is on dirt or gravel roads.

We leave for the Chilean lake country and Carraterra Austral on Saturday.

Fritz

3 comments:

Jordan said...

Dude...you payed off a Peruvian cop with counterfeit bills?? That's amazing! Thanks for the update. I can't believe you guys are already way down there. Washington is beautiful. WWOOFing at a greenhouse on the coast. Definitely a great experience thus far. Off to Thailand on 2/25.

Cheers brotha.

Jordan

steven said...

I don't feel comfy calling you guys DUDEs, Say Hi to Gene for me - or better yet - post his email address so I can contact him Black

Todd said...

Spectacular images and amazing stories. Take care!

Todd S.